Last week, the Newseum held a lecture about the future of journalism.
Richard Gingras, vice president of Google News, and Michael Oreskes, senior vice president of news and editorial director of NPR, spoke at the Newseum Nov. 15. Gingras and Oreskes focused on ways to improve the field — naming trust as the most important and challenging area.
It makes sense after the 2016 presidential election dominated the news media. Throughout the coverage, many people expressed a distrust with various sources. University of Maryland students and faculty can agree that a trust issue between the public and the news media exists.
“People have the right to distrust the media,” Rafael Lorente, associate dean and director of the Master’s Program at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, said. “Whether they are correct or not is another question.”
During the bid for the White House and even after, many people claimed the news media was too liberal or gave too much coverage to Donald Trump. The bias the public witnessed pitted person against person and the American people against the media.
Of course, prior to the election, news media outlets had reputations for liberal or conservative bias.
“I remember giving presentations in high school and Fox 5 was always considered more conservative,” said Ashley Batugo, a freshman informational science major.
However, she never paid close attention to any new media bias aside from the presentations.
For Singi Weerasuriya, a junior biology major and Middle Eastern studies minor, she noticed different takes on the same story.
“I was reading two articles about a drone strike in Yemen,” she said. “One was from BBC and the other was an American paper. They had different viewpoints. The facts were the same but the writing style evoked different feelings.”
Looking at two articles about a recent U.S.-backed Saudi-led airstrike from BBC and the Washington Post, it’s easy to see what Weerasuriya is talking about. The BBC article noted U.S. involvement and Washington’s plan to rethink side alignment. However, the article mainly focused on efforts to help in the aftermath of the attack and the lengthy conflict in general.
The Post article takes a different approach focusing on the U.S. government’s involvement. The extent of the damage and the death toll paint a vivid picture of the attack, which occurred at a funeral hall.
Both articles agree the attack was heinous and the U.S. had some involvement, but is not as supportive of the Saudi-led group. Yet, they differ in focus and tone. Sympathy and sorrow are felt after reading the BBC article, while the Post evokes anger and disgust.
The varying perspectives make the news media susceptible to eventual public distrust, but fault does not lie solely on it. Oreskes, Batugo and Weerasuriya all believe the public has a responsibility to get their news from various sources with different perspectives. Yet, each takes a slightly different approach.
“We have a responsibility as citizens to understand what’s going on in our community and the world,” Oreskes said. “We need to be informed–news literate. We just have to be willing to seek it out and it’s easy.”
Similar to Oreskes, Batugo and Weerasuriya believe people should make the effort to seek out different sources.
“Look at different sources,” Batugo said, “some leaning more liberal and others leaning more conservative, then make a judgement.”
Weerasuriya, however, was more in favor of the public filtering out the bias. Broadening the intake of news through various sources is one way to find parallels between stories to get the truth.
During the talk, Gingras discussed creating cues to help audiences determine conflicts of interest and credibility of the sources.
However, not everyone agrees only the public needs to change. Despite having freedom of the press in the U.S., news media also needs to regroup.
“[The news media] needs to police themselves and be more rigorous,” said Carole Lee, a journalism professor, on election coverage. “It needs to be prepared for scandals and not let them be the main focus.”
During this election, it seemed as though the public could not get a break from the scandals the news chose to cover. It was either Hillary Clinton and her emails or Donald Trump and one of his questionable dealings or treatment of people at his rallies or in the past. Less time was spent covering each candidate’s policy.
Lee said she feels the news media needs to not be afraid of skipping a scandal. She notes there was an element of sensationalism just to get through the day. The media elevated things that didn’t matter.
When FBI Director James Comey revealed there were more emails, Wolf Blitzer broke the story for CNN. All anyone knew was more emails were found that were possibly linked to Hillary Clinton’s prior email controversy. As it turned out, the emails that were found on Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin’s shared server contained no incriminating evidence against Clinton.
Lee felt the news media’s choice to report the story was premature. Since the emails were on a server belonging to one of her aids, journalists should have known better than to report a story with very little evidence that could have also lost Clinton some voters. The story, however, was good for ratings because the public wanted to know every detail about the new emails that Comey used to reopen the original Clinton email case.
Drawing public attention to every scandal is good for ratings, which ultimately results in a higher revenue for the network. Yet, it’s at the cost of quality news reporting where the important information is reported, like each candidate’s policy.
The current trust issue between the public and the news media needs to be rebuilt somehow. One solution is the public fulfilling its responsibility to consume a variety of news sources with different biases. Another is for the news media to fix how it covers stories and not report events for good ratings.
Lorente and Gingras see the trust being rebuilt through mutual efforts of the news media and the audience.
“Everyone has to do it at every level,” Lorente said. “We need to teach our kids, we need to model it. We have to call out people who behave in untrustworthy ways or claim crookedness or corruption.”
The trust can be rebuilt through a national group effort. It is simply a system of checks and balances. It is the public’s job to hold the news media accountable and it is up to the news media to give quality reporting and equal coverage to all perspectives. Now let’s get to work.
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Maria Bryk and the Newseum.
Talia Dennis is a freshman multiplatform journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.